WEST ORANGE, NJ — Luna Stage will launch its 2018-19 Season with J.Stephen Brantley’s award-winning play “Pirira,” directed by new Luna Stage Artistic Director Ari Laura Kreith. Set simultaneously in Malawi and New York, the play explores the challenges of international aid across interpersonal borders, and how we bridge seemingly impossible cultural divides.
Inspired in part by Brantley’s experiences as a writer for Madonna’s nongovernmental organization Raising Malawi, the play is set amid riots that took place in the city of Lilongwe on July 20, 2011, as American aid workers Jack and Ericka are unexpectedly forced to take shelter in the storage room of Jack’s struggling NGO. Meanwhile, half a world away, Malawian college student Gilbert and his gay co-worker Chad begin another day in the back room of a Manhattan florist. By day’s end, the foursome discover that their lives are connected across geography, language and time.
“Pirira” runs Thursdays through Sundays from Oct. 4 through Oct. 28. Tickets are on sale now at www.lunastage.org/pirira. A number of special events are also planned in conjunction with the production, including a multigenerational community reading of William Kamkwamba’s autobiographical “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind,” which inspired elements of the play.
Luna’s production marks the regional premiere of “Pirira,” and is the play’s second production. The first, directed by Kreith at Theatre 167 in 2013, transferred off-Broadway and received the New York Innovative Theatre Foundation Award for Outstanding Premiere of a Play. In the five intervening years, Kreith and Brantley had discussed reviving the piece but the timing never seemed right. When choosing her inaugural season at Luna, Kreith felt Brantley’s play would be a perfect first production.
“Bringing this play to Luna allows us to frame our first season as a series of powerful cross-cultural conversations about central issues that affect us all,” Kreith said.
Questions raised in “Pirira” include how and why we stand up to injustice and inequity — both at home and abroad. In a taut, 70-minute, three-language, two-continent play, Brantley touches on the importance of clean water, girls’ education, HIV/AIDS, homophobia and personal responsibility.
“At a time of such tribalism in our own country, it’s useful to look beyond our borders — beyond both our national boundaries and our personal biases — to consider how our choices can impact people, for good or bad, in far off places,” Brantley said. “I hope that ‘Pirira’ reminds us that no matter how deeply entrenched we may be in our own cultures and traditions and personal journeys, we still have much more in common than not.”